Colorado DOT Plays Key Role in Passenger Rail White Paper

The Colorado Department of Transportation recently published a white paper in conjunction with the Regional Transportation District (RTD) and the Front Range Passenger Rail District that explores the possibility of a new partnership that would enable Colorado to complete the Northwest Rail line between Denver, Boulder, and Longmont, as well as build the first phase of Front Range Passenger Rail by extending service to Fort Collins.

[Above photo by Colorado DOT]

That white paper highlights the benefits of a partnership between RTD, CDOT, and Front Range, specifically to maximize operational efficiencies and accelerate delivery of two parallel train services contemplated to run on the same existing train tracks.

A partnership and joint powers agreement could enable the stacking of financing options, combine and streamline planning with the goal of accelerating a starter service on this segment, CDOT said – something none of these entities could currently do on their own.

Gov. Polis. Photo via the Colorado Governor’s Office.

“[The] unfinished Northwest Rail [project] has vexed many leaders for decades,” noted Lisa Kaufmann, senior strategic advisor to Gov. Jared Polis (D), in a statement. “I am hopeful this white paper represents a new era of collaboration and creative problem solving to … deliver an important transit solution to our fast growing northern communities.”

[Editor’s note: Increasing passenger rail options in Colorado is one part of the “Roadmap to a Future Colorado 2026” issued by Gov. Polis in December 2023.]

“Through a joint powers partnership, we can leverage the strengths, funding, and existing technical work from all of our potential partners to overcome the historic challenges for providing a starter service for Northwest Rail,” added John Putnam, senior advisor to the Colorado DOT.

“And at the same time, by expanding the starter service to Fort Collins, we can achieve important passenger rail goals by completing a first phase of the project; unlocking more federal resources, and buying down the total potential cost of Front Range Passenger Rail,” he said. “Teaming together, we can achieve wins for several important Colorado priorities.”

The Federal Railroad Administration recently accepted the preferred track alignment and the Front Range Passenger Rail District officially selected as its route to be the Burlington Northern Santa Fe or BNSF Front Range Subdivision from Union Station through Boulder to Longmont – the same route called out for Northwest Rail in the white paper.

The Front Range Passenger Rail District proposal was also selected in the first round of grant recipients for the $36 billion Corridor Identification and Development program; an initiative created in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA and formally established by the agency in May 2022.

While the FRA selected 60 corridors for development, Colorado’s Front Range Passenger Rail District proposal is one of only two corridors selected into “Step 2” of that process, Colorado DOT noted.

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